When Eddington snubbed Chandra | HT Tech

When Eddington snubbed Chandra

A new book by a famed science historian traces one of modern science's most written about and tragic standoffs.

| Updated on: May 11 2005, 15:39 IST

A new book by a famed science historian traces one of modern science's most written about and tragic standoffs between Nobel prize winning Indian physicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar and legendary English astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington.

'Empire Of The Stars' by Arthur Miller is being hailed as a brilliant book about how a young Chandra, as the Indian scientist came to be known, was laid low by an abrasively arrogant Eddington over the former's postulation about the existence of black holes.

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Eddington, considered one of a handful of physicists in the 1930s who really comprehended Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity, ridiculed Chandra's postulation as 'stellar buffoonery'.

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An excerpt from the book on its US publisher Houghton Mifflin says Chandra's 'flash of inspiration came when he was an unknown 19-year-old in the hot summer of 1930. In 10 minutes, sitting in a deck chair overlooking the Arabian Sea, Chandra (as he was universally known) carried out some calculations that augured a disturbing fate for the small, dense stars known as white dwarfs.

'At the time scientists assumed that white dwarfs were dead stars in their final resting state. Those that had been found had more or less the mass of the Sun but were no bigger than Earth. Chandra's calculations showed that there was an upper limit to the mass of these white dwarfs.

'Any star more massive than that when it burned out would not end its life as an inert rock but would begin an endless process of collapse, crunched by its own gravity into a singularity - a minuscule point of infinite density and zero volume, many trillions of times smaller than the period at the end of this sentence and many trillions of times denser than Earth.'

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First Published Date: 04 May, 15:23 IST